Shad Smith photo

Shad Smith Doctor of Health Administration graduate

“You think you’re going to stay forever, but then you realize you want to do something different.”

Shad Smith*, a former sports medicine professional, recently transitioned into a career in health care administration. “Getting a second skill set was the first step,” he says. “I knew it would make me more marketable.”

Here, Smith offers advice on how to handle a significant job transition—which, in this case, includes a doctoral degree.

*Actual Capella learner who agreed to appear in promotional materials for Capella.


Q. Tell us about yourself and why you originally chose to pursue sports medicine.

A. I grew up in a small, rural town in Indiana. My siblings and I always played sports, but after suffering an injury, I knew I wanted to pursue sports medicine. A friend, and now colleague, talked to me at the time about becoming an athletic trainer.

I received a bachelor’s degree in sports medicine and began working as an athletic trainer in a high school clinic in Toledo, Ohio. Over the next 18 years, I worked in the sports medicine field in various settings including clinical, collegiate, and professional.


Q. What compelled you to make the transition from sports medicine to health administration?

A. A lot of my work as an athletic trainer took place on Friday evenings and weekends, and that was not what I wanted. I wanted to pursue a more routine career that was balanced between work and personal life.

I went back to school to get an MBA and found that the coursework did not come easy for me. It was a little difficult transitioning from my clinical setting into the business classes. But I adjusted, and subsequently decided to pursue a Doctor of Health Administration (DHA) with a focus on Health Care Leadership at Capella University.


Q. You recently moved into a role as hospital program director—what does this new role look like for you? Are you enjoying it?

A. In March of 2017, I moved to Port St. Joe, Florida to become Program Director of Community Health and Sports Medicine with Sacred Heart Hospital on the Gulf, part of Sacred Heart Health System.

In this newly created position, I am a part of the hospital’s senior leadership team. My duties involve developing the community health program for one of Florida’s poorest counties. I am also involved in creating an athletic training program and promoting our orthopedic and physical therapy programs.

I’m enjoying this role because I am creating something that that will enhance the health of the community.


Q. What are your career ambitions and how are you reaching those goals?

A. After I completed my DHA, I wanted to work in a leadership or program development role within the health care sector, which is what I am doing now. I also continue to seek out a part-time or adjunct teaching position, as my Capella experience helped me to realize my passion for higher education in health care administration.


Q. Why did you choose Capella University to pursue your DHA?

A. I originally started a different doctoral program at another school, but quickly realized it was not the right fit for me. I then chose Capella’s DHA program in part because of the course structure, which allowed for an intensive, 10-week coursework component. It also aligns with the National Center for Healthcare Leadership (NHCL) Health Leadership Competency Model, which is important if you plan to work in leadership positions in health care.

I liked the program’s well-rounded approach to health care leadership and policy, with the option to pick a concentration in health care leadership, policy, or a general track.


Q. You probably had a vast network in the sports medicine industry. How are you creating a new network in the health care industry?

A. A number of athletic trainers have made the jump from sports medicine to health care administration, and I have been able to transition a lot of my network over.

My DHA program was also beneficial for networking. I appreciated Capella’s method for classwork—allowing me to build friendships among the fellow DHA students, all with diverse careers and at varying stages of the program. I even created a solid network among administrators and faculty.

In my new role, I continue to establish my network, and I am grateful to be a part of a mission-driven organization that helps leaders to flourish and grow. My involvement with public health associations has expanded my network even further.


Q. What advice do you have for others who are considering making a career change?

A. Most importantly, I would say have a transition plan. Determine what your goals are for your education path and career, and plan out the steps required to get you where you ultimately want to be.

Make connections and meet individuals within your chosen industry who can teach and mentor you. Support from your professors and mentors will be critical for your growth and advancement.

Also, make the effort to connect with classmates, as they may know of opportunities or connections that you do not have, and in return, be willing to help them and pass their names along as well.



The Capella University Career Center counselors, resources, and tools help students and alumni manage their careers at every stage and move toward the careers they want.

Learn more about Capella’s Doctor of Health Administration program.